Best Cell Phone Coverage 2020
Do your eyes ever glaze over when you hear words like “coverage” and “reliability” during a cell phone plans commercial? Yeah, us too. Here’s the reality with cell phone providers: Verizon’s the best provider for getting all the calls, texts, and unlimited data you need, whether you’re in the city or out in rural areas.
T-Mobile barely falls behind Verizon (seriously, it’s .2% difference1) in terms of coverage, but it makes up for it download speeds. AT&T can’t boast the same 4G availability as Verizon or T-Mobile, but it does offer some cool TV perks
Sprint rounds off our list as a solid budget network—it may be the best option for someone looking for a less expensive way to get wireless network coverage nationwide, especially in cities.1,2
Cell phone plans from top providers
There are tons of wireless providers out there, but which one is the best network for you? The last thing you want is to pay extra for features you won’t even use, like an international cell phone plan or roaming. Don’t waste your money on a wireless provider that doesn’t give you what you’re looking for.
Verizon: Best Overall
Verizon’s coverage reigns supreme
- Top coverage
- Fastest download speeds
What we like about Verizon
Verizon has not only the best 4G LTE network coverage in all 50 states, but it’s also consistently fast,1 so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a cool place to eat tonight, uploading Instagram stories, or using Google to win an argument.
We can’t promise you won’t run into any dead spots, but you’re a lot less likely to encounter problems pretty much anywhere you go.
Who is Verizon best for?
- Those concerned about rural coverage
- Business travelers
- Rural, suburban, and city users alike
What we don’t like about Verizon
Verizon is typically more expensive than the other three big carriers, but if you want the best coverage, it may be worth the extra moolah to make sure your calls go through. How many horror movies could’ve been prevented with good cell phone coverage? Just saying.
If you want more information about Verizon, make sure read our full review.
Verizon unlimited plans and prices
T-Mobile: Best for high speeds
Straightforward pricing and fast speeds make T-Mobile a solid, less expensive option.
- Second-fastest download speeds
- Lots of unthrottled data
- Less reliable coverage in rural areas
What we like about T-Mobile
T-Mobile’s coverage plan might not get you through some of the more rural parts of the country (especially in the Northwest) but you should get reliable coverage in 94% of the country1. Chances are you live in that 94% of the country.
T-Mobile doesn’t throttle your speeds on your device until after you use 50 GB of unlimited data, meaning you can stream music, movies, and download apps to your heart’s content. Seriously, good luck racking up 50 GB of data in a month. Unless you plan on literally binge-watching every second of the month, you shouldn’t experience much of a slow down.
Who is T-Mobile best for?
- Suburban and city dwellers (rural areas may experience more outages)
- People who want fast speeds
- People who want or need 50 GB of unthrottled data
What we don’t like about T-Mobile
T-Mobile should work for most people outside of rural areas, but you can see for yourself on the coverage map. If you happen to hail from the great states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, or Nevada in particular, we would say to avoid T-Mobile altogether. You’re bound to run into dead zones frequently, and that’s annoying.
Or if you’d like to dig more into T-Mobile’s cell phone benefits, read our full review.
T-Mobile unlimited plans and prices
AT&T Wireless: Best for TV fans
AT&T’s coverage is solid, and it’s a less expensive option with decent TV benefits included.
- Second best coverage
- Free streaming data
- Some dead spots
What we like about AT&T
AT&T falls a bit behind Verizon and T-Mobile in terms of coverage, but it still covers 88.9% of the country1. Which means you’re just as likely to get coverage as James Harden is to make a free throw. And that guy makes a lot of free throws.
Here’s a good way to think of it: AT&T will cover you most of the time and you’ll pay around $5–$10 less a month than you would with Verizon. Plus, AT&T does have perks for streaming, like free cellular data for AT&T TV NOW. You’ll be happy to have your device in your back pocket when you’re bored on the train.
Who is AT&T best for?
- TV fans
- Those who don’t want to pay Verizon’s price, but still need similar coverage
- Some rural users, but mostly suburban and city users
What we don’t like about AT&T
Most of the country is covered, but you should still look at AT&T’s coverage map. For example, if you live in Nebraska, you’ll be happy you looked at this map. The cell signal on your device will be as reliable as the Nebraska football program. (Sorry, that was a low blow, Nebraska.)
For a better idea of AT&T’s cell phone plans, read our full review.
AT&T unlimited plans and prices
Sprint: Best on a budget
Sprint’s cheap prices may be just what you need—but its coverage, speed, and performance are lacking.
- Affordable plans
- Discounted Hulu and Tidal subscriptions
- Poor coverage overall
What we like about Sprint
Sprint has some of the best prices for cell phone plans, and they’re better now that the Unlimited Plus plan also gets you Hulu and Tidal subscriptions bundled in. Seriously, you can get an unlimited plan with Sprint for more than half the price you would with a Verizon or T-Mobile.
TV, music, and cell phone service on the cheap is a good way to go, especially for people trying to consolidate their finances to save up for cars, houses, and Elon Musk’s flamethrowers. (What, we’re the only ones doing that?) You won’t have as good of coverage as you would with Verizon, but you’ll save a bunch of bucks.
Who is Sprint best for?
- Those who don’t need maximum coverage and want to save
- City folks and those in surrounding areas
- More budget-minded users
What we don’t like about Sprint
The downside is the less-than-great coverage.1 You’ll notice a drop in bars if you plan on venturing basically anywhere out west.
Honestly, a Sprint plan only makes sense if you live where you can get a Sprint cell phone signal. If you live back east, you’ve got a nice coverage area that should support you just fine. Beware to those who live anywhere west of Kansas and east of Los Angeles . . . your coverage area is super unreliable.
Sprint unlimited plans and prices
Additional cell phone carrier options
If these four options have burned you in the past and you want to try something totally new, consider trying Metro by T-Mobile (formerly Metro PCS), Cricket Wireless, Total Wireless, Google Fi, or even Tracfone.
These companies often use a Big Four (Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T) cell tower, so you’ll generally still have good coverage, but you’ll be dealing with a different company and what it has to offer.
Best wireless alternatives
Why availability matters
If New York City has perfect coverage, it doesn’t matter much to the folks in Durango, Colorado. We can’t stress this enough: check coverage maps for the places you need service the most.
Where do you need voice and data coverage?
Basically, the better the coverage nationwide, the less you’ll have to think about whether you have coverage or not. Most phone calls or texts aren’t life or death (but some are), but the last thing we want to worry about is if our call will even go through.
- Home: You don’t want to rely strictly on your home phone (if you have one) or on your home Wi-Fi network to get timely or important messages.
- Work: You definitely need a reliable data connection for work—whether it’s for phone meetings, telecommuting, video conferences, or, y’know, browsing dank memes.
- School: Need to email a professor asking for an extension? With a good connection, you won’t have to blame your tardy turn-ins on your cell phone.
- Commute: What’s better than listening to podcasts about conspiracy theories or murder? Nothing—so you’ll want coverage even on the road.
- Restaurants: Do you eat out downtown more than out in the country? Or do you regularly take drives into the mountains for dinner with a view? Either way, you need good data to Instagram your dinner.
- Nightlife: Don’t drink and drive—make sure you can call a Lyft at 2 a.m. from your local watering holes and dance clubs. You don’t want to walk five miles in those heels at the end of a long night of getting jiggy with it.
- Outdoor excursions: You ever been stuck on a mountain without service? You need coverage there too—not only so you can upload your epic selfie, but also because it’s much safer to have backup.
- Family in other areas: You may have great coverage at your home, but if you’re visiting Aunt Tina while she’s hosting a BBQ in the country, you may need to call the kids and have them pick up some extra moist towelettes before they arrive. (Trust us, they are a must.)
- Business travel: Having no service when you’re in airplane mode is one thing, but you don’t want to lose out on a new deal because you can’t Facetime with a client.
When coverage matters, price is less of a priority
If you pick the provider with the best coverage (Verizon) you have to cope with its higher-than-average price. In other words, you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for.
Conversely, Sprint offers a good deal on its unlimited plans, which include TV and music subscriptions bundled in, but your coverage will definitely suffer.
Better network coverage is one of most people’s top considerations for switching providers, but money is still a strong factor. If you’re mostly connected to Wi-Fi throughout your day or you just don’t use your phone that much, and you don’t live in a rural area, then it’s less important to get the best coverage, but it’s still something to think about.
How has your experience been with these providers? Any horror stories or tales of redemption? Let us know in the comments below!